The Art of the Egg

Vivian Alexander minaudière collection

- Thursday, January 12, 2017

The new Vivian Alexander minaudière collection features couture designs, engine-turned pure silver bases, fine enamel, gemstones, and decorative metalwork.

When an early owner of Van Cleef & Arpels, noticed a wealthy client in 1930 insouciantly carrying her ladylike essentials in a tin cigarette case, he had an idea: What if he constructed a small luxury purse in silver or gold for a woman to carry lipstick, powder, and some cash? He could craft it in precious metals, accent with gems or beads, and incorporate fine enamel and decorative features. The purses, which he called minaudières, a French word meaning to smile coyly, were an instant success. Ever since, well-turned out women, whether on the red carpet or at other gala events across the world, have smiled coyly while carrying these delicate works of art.

Vivian Alexander minaudières begin with an engine-turned, guilloché-decorated, pure (.999) silver armature, or supporting base. Guilloché, a French word meaning "engine turning patterns," involves carving ornamental patterns into metal; the patterns are then visible through fine enameling. These bases are made exclusively for the company by a Russian émigré silversmith with a background in electrical engineering After the bases are created, artisans who have been carefully selected and trained by the company begin the slow, painstaking process of bringing to life Caldwell’s artistic inspirations. The artisans themselves complement Caldwell’s vision with unique and individualized skills in fine art decoration.

Among the fine details featured in Vivian Alexander minaudières are intricate designs using cloisonnè, an ancient metalworking technique for decorating objects. It involves using delicate strips of precious metal wire to create compartments that Vivian Alexander artisans fill with up to 10 different enamel colors and hues. The enamels are translucent, transparent, or opaque, and can be pearlized, swirled with gold and silver particles, or infused with contrasting embedded enamel colors. The purses are often decorated with gemstones, fine crystals, and other precious accents as well. Alligator skins from Louisiana and lizard skins from South America are also used to cover the silver base and to complement the enamel. In many cases, designs take the form of fine brooches or pendants, many of which can be removed and worn separately.

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